By Jeff Dennis
When turning into the Lonesome Valley property in Cashiers, the manicured lawn and hillside trees are in full view. It is just a hint at the great care taken to conserve green space; a 27-acre conservation easement is in place to guard the integrity of this entrance. From that point on, a box canyon with a granite cliff dominates one’s view. Lonesome Valley sets a great example for controlled development amid the natural diversity found in these mountains.
The Jennings Family has owned this 700-acre property for decades, and the land used to serve for farming operations for things like mink and trout. Eventually, the trout farming business was relocated to Waynesville, where Sunburst Trout Farm thrives today. In 2005 the family decided to develop the property, and set a grand example for other private landowners by limiting the number of homes and maximizing the conservation approach.
Thomas Bates is one of the principals at Lonesome Valley and a longtime resident in Cashiers. “First of all, there is no golf course here, and we like it that way,” said Bates. “We already have grassy vistas built in with something like 280-acres set aside with an abiding respect for the natural world. We are only offering a total of 184 homesites and they are designed to blend into nature on lots that average 2.5-acres.”
“The natural diversity here that owners have access to includes Logan Creek, which feeds into a stocked trout pond,” said Bates. “We are actually undergoing restoration efforts on the creek for future sustainability where it concerns trout. Of course we request fly-fishing with barbless hooks and to practice catch-and-release. We also have a lake for freshwater fishing with brim and bass for those who would like to fish free of restrictions.”
At an elevation of 3,486 feet the Cashiers area offers plenty of stunning views, and quite a few of them involve granite cliffs. One local called this area the “Yosemite of the East,” and Lonesome Valley is home to the largest of these escarpments. “Cow Rock is part of the largest vertical granite face in the Eastern U.S. and is 1,200 feet from top to bottom,” said Bates. “Rock climbers frequent this rock face and there are several routes along the chiseled perpendicular groves that have been carved by eons of erosion.”
Another force at work in nature is the march of the woolly adelgid and its blight upon hemlock trees. Lonesome Valley is replanting Norway spruce trees in affected areas, one part of the comprehensive management plan designed to attract a conservation buyer. There are miles of hiking trails, many of them adorned with flame azalea, mountain laurel and rhododendron. Feeder creeks and running water are constant themes since this area averages over 100 inches of rain per year. A strong storm hit during my visit, giving a brief hint of being in a rainforest.
Early the next morning I met fishing guide Jack Mincey from Brookings Fly Shop at the trout pond. The trout didn’t seem to be awake yet, so we switched over to Logan Creek and I used a Pat stonefly with rubber legs to tempt two small brown trout into a photo opportunity. It’s worth noting that Logan Creek flows into Horsepasture Creek, which is part of the Savannah River Watershed. Mincey shared that just three miles further to the west, the mountain waters begin a journey that leads to the Gulf.
Amenities open to members and to the public include the Canyon Spa at Lonesome Valley and the Canyon Kitchen featuring Chef John Fleer. Electing to dine at Canyon Kitchen, I can report that the weather allowed for both a fire in the fireplace and for the wrap-around doors to be flung open to better enjoy the pastoral view. The three-course menu included a duo of crab starter and a rosemary-seared lamb T-bone with a fun Georgia blueberry fry pie for dessert.
The restaurant has become very popular, and reservations are necessary. Charlestonian Buzzy Newton was present and told me that he was in Cashiers for the summer season, as are others who seek to escape the heat and humidity of the Lowcountry. I also met Brien Peterkin at dinner, another principal at Lonesome Valley and a restaurant owner at Cornucopia.
By chance, I had been in town to buy some essentials like wine from Argentina, crackers from Asheville and cheese from Thomasville. I found all of these items at the shop at Cornucopia Restaurant. At dinner this open-air facility was ready for casual dining. The Southern fried quail sliders were delicate, like fried oysters, and the spiced pecan-encrusted rainbow trout filet was served hot and topped with trout caviar.
Situated in Jackson County, Cashiers is home to several eating establishments. Some are brand new like Table 64, while others are established like the venerable High Hampton Inn and Country Club. Besides dining out, part of the charm of Lonesome Valley is that once there the reasons to depart for other endeavors seem to diminish. Simple living in a healthy environment is the draw, and that message resonates with those who seek time in the outdoors. For more information visit them on the Internet at www.LonesomeValley.com.
Jeff Dennis is a longtime outdoorsman. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com.